Advertisement

Sexology and the Occult: Sexuality and Subjectivity in Theosophy’s New Age

  • Joy Dixon

Abstract

Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion—first published in England in 1897 and revised and rewritten in the decades that followed—was one of the earliest English texts to attempt to treat homosexuality scientifically.1 Included in the section “Sexual Inversion in Men” was a series of case studies. Among these studies, and of most interest in this context, was “History XV,” the story of “T.S.,” a thirty-two-year-old artist. Most of the story— which is one of the longest in the collection—is presented in the subject’s own words. For the most part, T.S.’s narrative follows the same format as Ellis’s other cases, and is apparently constructed in response to a series of questions from Ellis himself. He describes his family history, his physical appearance, and his youthful sexual encounters.

Keywords

Sexual Identity Spiritual Development Past Life Practise Yoga Century Sexual Inversion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 5.
    Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: English Feminism and Sexual Morality, 1885–1914 (London, 1995);Google Scholar
  2. Frank Mort, Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 (New York, 1987),CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Martha Vicinus, “ ‘They Wonder to Which Sex I Belong’: The Historical Roots of the Modern Lesbian Identity,” Feminist Studies 18 (1992): 467–97;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Judith R. Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State (London, 1980), and City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. and Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (New York, 1981).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Jennifer Terry, “Theorizing Deviant Historiography,” in Feminists Revision History, ed. Ann-Louise Shapiro (New Brunswick, NJ, 1994), p. 289.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Lisa Duggan, “The Trials of Alice Mitchell: Sensationalism, Sexology, and the Lesbian Subject in Turn-of-the-Century America,” Signs 18 (1993): 793, 809–10.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Roy Porter and Mikuláš Teich, eds., Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: The History of Attitudes to Sexuality (New York, 1994).Google Scholar
  9. The more recent Roy Porter and Lesley Hall, The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650–1950 (New Haven, CT, 1995) similarly focuses on scientific forms of sexual knowledge.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Havelock Ellis’s journal, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, quoted by Phyllis Grosskurth, Havelock Ellis: A Biography (New York, 1980), pp. 44–45. For Grosskurth’s account of Ellis’s reading of Hinton, see pp. 41–46.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds, Sexual Inversion (London, 1897), p. 14.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Havelock Ellis, “Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk: A Review,” Occult Review 20 (1914): 30–32.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Edward Carpenter, Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk: A Study in Social Evolution (London, 1914), p. 56.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York, 1995), p. 42.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Edward Carpenter, My Days and Dreams, Being Autobiographical Notes (London, 1916), p. 245. Carpenter was drawn to the Theosophical Society in its early years as one of a number of organizations that he believed “marked the coming of a great reaction from the smug commercialism and materialism of the mid-Victorian epoch, and a preparation for the new universe of the twentieth century” (p. 240), but ultimately rejected theosophical teaching.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Edward Carpenter to Mrs. Salt, November 24, 1890, Carpenter Collection, MSS 354.11, Sheffield City Library, cited in Chushichi Tsuzuki, Edward Carpenter, 1844–1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship (New York, 1980), p. 106;Google Scholar
  17. Edward Carpenter, The Drama of Love and Death: A Study of Human Evolution and Transfiguration (London, 1912), p. 215.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Ellis and Symonds (n. 10 above), pp. 1, xi. Ellis went to great lengths to distinguish “congenital sexual inversion” (which he believed was relatively rare) from the more general category of “sexual attraction between persons of the same sex, due merely to the accidental absence of the natural objects of sexual attraction” (ibid., p. 1). In practice, however, this was a relatively difficult position to maintain. For a discussion of these difficulties, see Marjorie Garber on “Ellis in Wonderland,” in Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (New York, 1995), pp. 237–48.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    The complicated relationship of theosophy and its teachings on reincarnation to colonialism, “orientalism,” and anticolonialism in England cannot be explored in detail here. For an extended analysis of the complexities of this encounter in the South Asian context, see Kumari Jayawardena, The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia during British Rule (New York, 1995), pp. 107–34.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    For an overview of the history of the theosophical movement, see Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (New York, 1980).Google Scholar
  21. Jill Roe’s Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia, 1879–1939 (Kensington, New South Wales, 1986);Google Scholar
  22. and Maria Carlson’s “No Religion Higher Than Truth”: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875–1922 (Princeton, NJ, 1993) have noted a similar overlap between theosophical and “progressive” circles. On the specific appeal of theosophy to the women’s movement,Google Scholar
  23. see Diana Burfield, “Theosophy and Feminism: Some Explorations in Nineteenth-Century Biography” in Women’s Religious Experience, ed. Pat Holden (London, 1983), pp. 27–56;Google Scholar
  24. and Joy Dixon, “Gender, Politics, and Culture in the New Age: Theosophy in England, 1880–1935” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers: The State University, 1993), esp. pp. 251–87.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    John Boswell has argued, e.g., that this was a key factor in the attacks on Albigensianism and the Knights Templar in the thirteenth century (John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality [Chicago, 1980], pp. 283–86, 295–98).Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (London, 1993), p. 146. Rudolf Steiner was at one time the leader of the German Section of the Theosophical Society; in 1913 he founded the Anthroposophical Society, best known today for the creation of the Waldorf Schools and of Bio-Dynamic agriculture.Google Scholar
  27. 25.
    Natasha Gray “Constance Wilde: A Modest Mystic,” Cauda Pavonis: Studies in Hermeticism 9 (1990): 1–3.Google Scholar
  28. 26.
    H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, facsimile of 1888 ed., 2 vols. (Pasadena, CA, 1988).Google Scholar
  29. 27.
    H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (1889; London, 1968), p. 63.Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    Basil Crump, The Secret Doctrine on the Problem and Evolution of Sex (Victoria, BC, 1923), p. 2. Crump was an English barrister who opposed what he believed to be Besant and Leadbeater’s “perversions” of Blavatsky’s teaching. Here, however, his claim was consonant with that of the Adyar Society.Google Scholar
  31. 33.
    H. P. Blavatsky, The Esoteric Writings of Helena Petroyna Blavatsky: A Synthesis of Science, Philosophy and Religion (Wheaton, IL, 1980). This work was previously published as vol. 5 of The Secret Doctrine. According to the preface to the 1897 ed., by Annie Besant, had Blavatsky lived to correct the manuscript she would doubtless have eliminated many of its errors. As it stood, “it will be obvious to any instructed reader that she makes—possibly deliberately—many statements so confused that they are mere blinds, and other statements—probably inadvertently—that are nothing more than the exoteric misunderstandings of esoteric truths” (p. 9).Google Scholar
  32. 36.
    On Leadbeater, see Gregory Tillett, The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater (Boston, 1982).Google Scholar
  33. 39.
    [H. T. Edge], Some Perverted Presentations of Theosophy Corrected (Point Loma, CA, [1910]), pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
  34. 40.
    Alice Leighton Cleather, H. P. Blavatsky. A Great Betrayal (Calcutta, 1922), pp. vii, 1.Google Scholar
  35. 41.
    A. P. Sinnett, Occult Essays (London, 1905), p. 162.Google Scholar
  36. 42.
    C. W. Leadbeater, “The Enquirer,” Vâhan 8 (1898): 4.Google Scholar
  37. 44.
    Virginia Woolf, Orlando (New York, 1928), p. 188,Google Scholar
  38. cited in Sandra M. Gilbert, “Costumes of the Mind: Transvestism as Metaphor in Modern Literature,” in Writing and Sexual Difference, ed. Elizabeth Abel (Chicago, 1982), pp. 193–94.Google Scholar
  39. 45.
    The editor [G. R. S. Mead], “The Enquirer,” Vâhan 1 (1892): 4.Google Scholar
  40. 46.
    Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty cites Sudhir Kakar, The Inner World: A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society in India (Delhi, 1978), to suggest that reincarnation motifs in Hindu mythology may be linked to an exploration of the incest fantasy, but notes in her own study the almost complete absence of homoerotic imagery in these contexts.Google Scholar
  41. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago, 1980), pp. 88, 108–9.Google Scholar
  42. 47.
    Carole-Ann Tyler, “Boys Will Be Girls: The Politics of Gay Drag,” in , ed. Diana Fuss (New York, 1991), p. 34.Google Scholar
  43. 48.
    Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York, 1993), p. 7.Google Scholar
  44. 49.
    Charles Lazenby, “Sex,” The Path 1 (1910): 95.Google Scholar
  45. 52.
    Ibid., p. 96. See also Elisabeth Severs, “Theosophy and Reincarnation,” Occult Review 22 (1915): 50. According to Severs, “This change of sex does, I think, throw some light on the reason for the effeminate man and the masculine woman. Each may be incarnating in a change of sex and still exhibiting the dominant traits of the last lives.”Google Scholar
  46. 55.
    H. C. Adcock, Christianity versus Occult Theosophy: A Contrast (Loughborough, 1913), p. 25.Google Scholar
  47. 56.
    Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New Haven, CT, 1988), pp. 259, 269. McDannell and Lang argue that while the “domestication of heaven” in the late nineteenth century was characteristic of both Protestant and Catholic popular theology, it was taken to its greatest lengths in spiritualist writing and in the “Gates Ajar” fiction inaugurated by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s novel of the same name, published in 1868. See McDannell and Lang, pp. 257–75. Theosophists, in contrast, described the “heaven-world” as “Devachan,” in which there were seven distinct levels. The Christian heaven Adcock described might be experienced by a less evolved soul on one of the lower, more material levels; in the “seventh heaven” the “last vestiges of sepa-rateness” are eliminated as souls move toward their final emancipation.Google Scholar
  48. Annie Besant, The Ancient Wisdom (1897, 1st ed.; Adyar, 1939), pp. 165, 173.Google Scholar
  49. 60.
    Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, The Lives of Alcyone (Adyar, Madras, 1924). Leadbeater’s then secretary, Ernest Wood, later expressed considerable doubt as to the authenticity of the Lives. Google Scholar
  50. See Ernest Egerton Wood, “Is This Theosophy…?” (London, 1936), p. 197.Google Scholar
  51. 61.
    Quoted in Clara Codd, So Rich a Life (Pretoria, 1951), p. 154.Google Scholar
  52. 62.
    Josephine Ransom, Our Philosophy of Education (London, 1919), p. 3.Google Scholar
  53. 63.
    A. P. Sinnett, “The Super-Physical Aspect of Sex,” Occult Review 31 (1920): 323.Google Scholar
  54. 64.
    C. W. Leadbeater, The Soul’s Growth through Reincarnation: The Lives of Erato and Spica, ed. C. Jinarâjadâsa (Adyar, Madras, 1976), pp. 44, 66–69.Google Scholar
  55. 65.
    Margaret L. Lee, “Some Theosophical Aspects of Analytical Psychology,” Vâhan 29 (1919): 32. Lee also noted in this passage that “the same fact of reincarnation affords a clue to the tangled web of homosexuality,”Google Scholar
  56. and referred her readers to Edward Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex (London, 1908).Google Scholar
  57. 66.
    As John Toews has argued, psychoanalytic oedipal theories were not a “rigidly structured model that imprisoned its users in an order of universal meanings” but constituted a “multivalent mythical narrative that opened up the possibility of a variety of psychic appropriations and actualizations.” Toews’s focus is on the “intellectual subculture” of the psychoanalytic movement, but the multivalency of Freud’s work is even more apparent when the focus—as here—is on the reception of Freud’s work outside of that culture. John E. Toews, “Male and Female Perspectives on a Psychoanalytic Myth,” in Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols, ed. Caroline Walker Bynum, Steven Harrell, and Paula Richardson (Boston, 1986), p. 314.Google Scholar
  58. 67.
    J. Arthur Hill, “Some Reincarnationist Script,” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 38, pt. 110 (1928–29): 376, 378.Google Scholar
  59. 68.
    Eva Gore-Booth, “To C. A.,” Occult Review 26 (1917): 35.Google Scholar
  60. 69.
    Hermione Parry Okeden, “Correspondence: Do Parents Create Souls?” Occult Review 24 (1916): 233–34.Google Scholar
  61. 80.
    For an exemplary working out of this concept in the context of the spiritualist movement, see Alex Owen, The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (Philadelphia, 1990), pp. 202–35.Google Scholar
  62. 84.
    J.W.B.-I. [J. W. Brodie-Innes], “The Enquirer,” Vâhan 2 (1892): 4.Google Scholar
  63. 88.
    G. E. Sutcliffe, “Scientific Notes,” Theosophist 30 (1909): 379.Google Scholar
  64. 89.
    Fritz Kunz, Sex Concepts for the New Age (Chicago, 1926), pp. 30–31. See also pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  65. 90.
    Letters from H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) to Bryher, February 14, 1919, and from Bryher to H. D, March 20, 1919, in the Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT. Cited in Andrea Weiss, Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in the Cinema (London, 1992), p. 20.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Elizabeth A. Castelli 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joy Dixon

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations